The U.S. Department of Education is launching an effort to reform and simplify how college students apply for and receive financial aid.
The federal student aid form needs to be cut down from 100 to nine questions and the aid formula should be revamped and more closely tied to adjusted gross income and the number of dependents, said Under Secretary of Education Sara Martinez Tucker. She spoke last month at a national summit addressing affordability, accountability and accessibility in higher education.
“I want federal aid to create hope, not extinguish it,” Tucker said in an interview with Diverse. “Yes, the financing of higher education is complex, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship between the Department of Education and families and students has to be complex.”
One plan would be to zero out other types of aid, such as the state opportunity education grants, and direct that money to the Pell Grant Program. An estimated $1.7 billion could be directed into Pell Grants and increase the maximum award amounts to each student.
Tucker said such streamlining would give students a “portable portfolio” of financial aid that they could take with them to any school. Currently, some grants are available only at selected schools.
Also under consideration is how to better inform students about their eligibility for federal aid. Students now have to wait for an award letter from a school.
Tucker said education officials want students to know about their eligibility for loans and grants before they have to decide on a school. Tucker said the department will convene experts to develop proposals to present to Congress.
Many of the college presidents and higher education organizations attending the summit supported the reform ideas.
“Given the urgency for education opportunities for economically disadvantaged and underrepresented students, we need to be more supportive and make sure they can get the help they need,” said Eve Hall, vice president of school reform at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
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